“This is part of a much larger movement going on that Indigenous peoples are situated in, and it is a long time coming,” said Carla Fredericks, the director of First Peoples Worldwide and a longtime advocate against Native American mascots. “I think that for anyone that is associated with the movement for racial justice this is a significant gain, and this is a significant moment.”
That movement for racial justice is, in part, propelled by the Black Lives Matter movement, and the widespread re-examination of systemic racism — not to mention statues, flags, symbols and mascots that celebrate racist history — that was prompted by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. On Monday the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights advocacy group, said in a statement that it “welcomed the decision of the Washington, D.C., football team to drop the racist ‘Redskins’ name.”
But despite the collective power of formerly disparate movements, not to mention the half-century of activist pressure, what finally triggered the name change was not an acknowledgment of Native people’s concerns or a rumination on the name’s offense. Instead, Daniel Snyder, the owner of the Washington N.F.L. team for more than 20 years, was seemingly driven by a simpler motivation: money.
In a letter sent to the Washington team dated July 2, FedEx, which pays about $8 million a year for the naming rights to the team’s stadium in Landover, Md., said if the name wasn’t changed, it would back out of the deal. The threat carried extra weight, considering that Frederick Smith, the chairman of FedEx, owns a minority stake in the team, which he had been quietly attempting to sell for many months.
FedEx was among several corporate heavyweights to take action to convince Snyder to act on the name. Bank of America, Pepsi, Nike and other N.F.L. sponsors issued statements asking the team for a name change, and retailers like Walmart, Amazon and Target stopped selling the team’s merchandise on their websites and in their stores.